E3 2011: Editor impressions of the Microsoft press conference

This morning’s Microsoft E3 press conference gave us much to ponder, much to anticipate and possibly much to fear. Which announcements fit into which of those categories? Read on for my personal impressions of the event, as well as thoughts from the Editor-in-Chief of Official Xbox Magazine, Francesca Reyes.

The real Halo is back

Well that was a long time coming. After nearly four years of Halo prequels and spinoffs, Master Chief is finally returning to Xbox 360… with two games, no less. A remake of Combat Evolved has been semi-confirmed for months now, but seeing the comparison between outdated 2001 graphics and crisp, detailed 2011 graphics was still a treat. Let’s just pray they “reimagined” the Library level as well.

The biggest news of the press conference, however, was Halo 4. It’s happening, it’s releasing Holiday 2012 and it’s the start of a brand new trilogy. Based on the trailer, the story will pick up where the original trilogy left off, with Master Chief awakening from his years-long (possibly centuries- or millennia-long) cryogenic slumber to cries of help from Cortana. The short action sequence that follows is much more gritty, visceral and realistic-looking than the usual Halo, with our hero jetpacking through a burning husk of a ship while shooting off the hip with his pistol. I know this is a cutscene and not actual gameplay, but I was reminded strongly of Dead Space 2. With 343 Industries at the helm instead of Bungie, will the series adapt a new style or direction? After the good-but-not-amazing ODST and Reach, I’d welcome some change.

Gears of War 3 underwhelms

Gears of War 3 is one of my most anticipated games of E3 2011, and of 2011 in general, but the stuff that creator Cliff Bleszinski showed off at this morning’s press conference didn’t wow me. Marcus and company are attacked by a massive sea monster while trying to escape the Locust on a COG warship. Sounds cool, right? It was, but no cooler than the massive sea monster battle in Gears of War 2 – even the weak points (shoot it in the eyes!) seemed the same. Marcus was able to take advantage of the new Silverback mech suits, though, taking cover behind the machine that one of his co-op buddies had piloted into the fray. If only we’d seen him jump in the mech himself.

Hopefully, tomorrow’s Gears 3 demo and after-hours event will hit me harder. Watch for further coverage.

Modern Warfare 3 and Tomb Raider exceed expectations

I was worried about both of these franchises – Modern Warfare’s no longer in the trusted hands of developer Infinity Ward, and Tomb Raider is a complete reboot. After today’s gameplay demos, however, I’m convinced neither will disappoint. The mission shown from Modern Warfare 3 was one of the craziest, best-paced, most cinematic things I’ve experienced in the series thus far – starting with a stealthy scuba dive through the harbor of New York City, transitioning seamlessly into a close-quarters shootout through the decks of a Russian submarine and climaxing with a boat chase that featured high-speed driving, slow-motion shooting and screen-shaking explosions. This is classic Modern Warfare.

Tomb Raider, meanwhile, is anything but classic. This feels very different and very refreshing. Lara is younger, yes, but also more likeable and more vulnerable, talking to herself nervously through dangerous traps and deadly injuries. The environments are darker and scarier, with intense scripted sequences (unexpected falls, pursuing madmen) everywhere. Part Uncharted, part Condemned, part Indiana Jones, part Descent… now I just need confirmation that the new Tomb Raider is still, in some ways, Tomb Raider. Show me the wide, open environmental puzzles or the trademark acrobatics – even if it’s later in the game, when Lara has learned a few tricks – and I’ll be happy.

Kinect is for kids

Silly rabbit! You hoped, a year after Cirque du Soleil, Joy Ride and Skittles, that Microsoft might have refocused on the hardcore adult gamer? I’m afraid not. Half of 2011’s press conference was dedicated to motion control and the majority of that was dedicated to children.

Disneyland Adventures is a virtual recreation of the beloved amusement park, with Kinect Adventure-like minigames in place of actual rides – a neat idea, but how many of us will want to play a Peter Pan themed coin collecting minigame more than once? Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster oozes that Tim Schafer / Double Fine charm, but he’s clearly designed the game primarily for his three year-old daughter and not for fans of Psychonauts or Grim Fandango. Kinect Fun Labs is a collection of honestly impressive tech tools with real potential for real games – scan any object, including yourself, into a 3D doppelganger on the screen – but is currently being used to recreate stuffed toys or paint sparklers around people’s arms.

To be fair, these games appear to be excellent entertainment for kids, or parents wanting to play games with their kids – that couldn’t be said for 99% of what released on the Nintendo Wii. The fact that Microsoft now seems intent on the 360 being the better Wii, however, is terrifying.

Also terrifying? Child actors paid to pretend like they’re having fun.

Next page: So much Kinect it hurts


E3 Microsoft

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  • DrRock - June 8, 2011 9:18 p.m.

    We have a Kinect and it mostly gets played for dancing games, but it's a great way for the family to spend an evening or two together actually playing something we all enjoy. I'm not saying Kinect is great and that MS conference was the best. I wish Kinect would've played a smaller role during the conference; I just don't see MS giving up on pushing this as a way to extend the console's life cycle. Overall I give it a B
  • pimpdaddie - June 8, 2011 12:59 a.m.

    Well I have got to say that I give em a B+ or A-, the conference was great for the gamer audience but for the real world like Micheal Pachter said was a SOLID A for the bing, youtube, tv, new ui, OMG I was so exited !!! Now throw in great 3rd party support, Few BUT THE BEST 1st party games and HOLY SHIT!! Microsoft knows what they are doing! Not only that but with kinect they are opening a new consumers kids! Moms and Dads will have a reason to buy their children a 360, so expect sales to continue to increase for microsoft.Games aside they will kick ass, that is their achelle's heal now new IPs. However Halo 4 is insane, and there is no doubt in my mind that a ton of IPs and have Rare to kick ass! Killer Instinct, Conquers, Banjo Kazooie !!! The only thing that I was disappointed was that they didn't talk about a new zune hd 2, which can help them in the hand held space. Other than that pure awesomeness. Sony's boring conference was a true disappointment! Fuck that they came in last LMAO!!!
  • monkeywolf - June 7, 2011 11:18 p.m.

    Wait, Modern Warfare 3 seriously exceeded expectations? It looked exactly like MW2 and plays in the same manner talk about an utter disappointment. It's just MW 2.5 and MW 2 was really MW 1.5 even blops wasn't that great as it was just MW2 repackaged in the Cold War Era. Come on when are you going to actually do your job and critique this game like it should be, past the hype and bashing it for the repititive BS its been spewing for years now and hasn't innovated AT ALL in over 3 games.
  • Spybreak8 - June 7, 2011 11:15 p.m.

    I'm a Kinect owner, it's alot of fun as a party game system, but jesus that was almost unbearable to watch. I mean yeah why would people who probably aren't even watching be targeted. It seemed Microsoft had made a promise with the Kinect last E3 and they were limited to hold to it this year. Gears 3, Tomb Raider, BF3, Halo CEA, and Halo 4 all looked great. MW3 was cool and all but the whole been there done that feeling kicked in during the cinematic event through the harbor. One thing I liked about the Kinect and Microsoft was that they too realized that enabling it for games is the way to go. Make it an option and not a hindrance.
  • Yeager1122 - June 7, 2011 7:26 p.m.

    Somewhat intrested in Halo 4 but very intrested eand excited for Tomb Raider was the Highlight of an otherwise underwhelming Microsoft show for me defintley cant wait to see more of it.
  • Kethmach - June 7, 2011 7:19 p.m.

    The Halo games were teased and that hurt my soul. But at the same time- they were only trailers. Well, Halo 4 was only a trailer. And that's fine, the game is over a year and a half away. The Remake of Halo showed a little gameplay and that looked awesome. I expect to see more today. So, taking Halo off the table. I got to see some awesome MW3 footage, some INCREDIBLE Tomb Raider footage. I fell in love with Forza all over again. I saw at least 3 games that made me happy about Kinect again- and 3 or 4 games my nephew and niece will be BEGGING for this year (glad their father has a Kinect too). I also saw cool features for Ghost Recon that I wasn't expecting, as well as Mass Effect 3 (Liara- Singularity!). I even saw some cool new features with Bing and YouTube and even the whole dash. And an Avatar that looks like ME! I thought that was a great show. I really don't see why anybody who wasn't just being an asshole would have had any issue with last nights show. At all. Except those stupid horrible kids. They could have been shot off stage with a cannon. (and yet my brother said that's when his two started getting really excited. So... what do I know about marketing to kids).
  • SphincterSquirrel - June 7, 2011 3:14 p.m.

    My Kinect is collecting dust just like the Wii did, voice controls are neat for movies but not much else. But still looking forward to what they do with it. Big Halo fan and of course will pick them up but besides that not a whole lot to wow me. And when playing FPSers dont want to stand in front of the TV and ape the game. No thanks.
  • Romination - June 7, 2011 2:47 p.m.

    Hey, you guys do know that Kinect is optional for those games right? I see a lot of people bitching about it being in future soldier and mass effect but you don't have to use it.
  • GoBlue811 - June 7, 2011 2:35 p.m.

    Thumbs down man. I didn't watch all of it, but I wasn't too impressed by the parts that I did watch (which was the MW3, Tomb Raider part of the conference). Don't get me wrong, the games look great, but over half of the time spent on Kinect? Gross. At least Sony had an emphasis on real games during their conference for the most part. All Nintendo has to do is show off how bad ass the Cafe is (wow, I really can't believe I just said that) and they have E3. Long shot prediction: GTA V will appear on the Cafe.
  • MightyMorphinPoltergeist - June 7, 2011 2:10 p.m.

    Oh knee jerk reactions from the internet how I love thee. @Markoose16 "I don't see why they use any event which is primarily watched and attended by the core audience..." E3 is primarily for investors and media. MSoft sold (iirc) just over 11 million Kinects to date, to think from a business stand point they would forget that and not make more games for that product is absurd. Gamers grow up, we have kids. If I had a son or daughter I would totally play Sesame Street or Disneyland adventure with them, it's just the sort of starter game to get them into our wonderful world of video games. If MSoft can "out Nintendo" while still making games that I wanna play Mass Effect, Halo, Gears, etc than I am all the more for that. For a group of people who claim to love ingenuity we sure are quick to knock a new product. I'm fine with voice in Mass Effect, I liked Tom Clancy's End War, will I use it all the time, probably not but It's a cool start. Also, Yes Star Wars looks painfully stiff and tech demo-y to me but that doesn't mean future iterations wont fix that. Fable Journeys reminded me of Time Crisis or House of the Dead, ie wait for the enemy to pop up then throw a shot at them. If that's the case AND it's co-op I could be down for that, I haven't played either of the prior games in to long and there is no MSoft equivalent. Why are people complaining about MSoft abandoning hardcore? We got Halo 4 announced, Gears 3, Halo HD and an awesome Tomb Raider game that for once; intrigues me enough to want to play TR. Also, how many times can we play sequels of what we already know or own? I am all for embracing a new tech that could change how I play, Gunstringer and Child of Eden are just two games selling me on that new experience for Xbox and i'm all for that. Lastly, poking fun at casual. There's 10 buttons on our controllers, that scares some people, if Kinect can remove that initial obstacle so grandma can have a few minutes of fun with the family, great. That doesn't mean I want shovel ware but if they can make appropriately priced games and hardware to compliment the existing stuff I have while providing a little fun for your family or non gaming friends is awesome. It's the equivalent of Mini Golf, no has to be great at it to have fun. And If you need to be hardcore gamer all the time then that's fine too, MSoft and 3rd party developers have you covered. Don't mind me, I'll just be enjoying both worlds...
  • Pruman - June 7, 2011 1:57 p.m.

    Now that new details are out about the Halo 1 remake, namely that it's the exact same 2001 engine with a new graphics engine running on top, I'm less enthused about it. I was hoping for something more along the lines of the Resident Evil remake on the GameCube or Metroid Zero Mission on the GBA, where they respect the original but add interesting new hooks and fix some of the stuff that didn't work. Now that I know I can just pop my original XBOX copy into my 360 and get the same experience, I'm skipping this one. Halo 1 multiplayer was way too 1337 for me. Getting pistol-killed from the other side of the map and then taunted about how I shouldn't suck so much from the a-holes on the college LAN left a bad taste in my mouth. Microsoft focusing on the Kinect is just doing what they do best, which is copying popular tech that someone else made already, and then driving the original into the ground. Like you guys have said, the Wii and Kinect's target audience buys it, fires it up once, and then never plays it again. Notice how Microsoft hasn't said anything since their announcement that 10 million sold in March? Want to guess why not?
  • CreepersOnSpeed - June 7, 2011 11:37 a.m.

    Ryse :3
  • EDfromRED - June 7, 2011 11:16 a.m.

    Modern Warfare 3 paled in comparision with Battlefield 3. MW3 footage looks like it was copied and pasted from MW 1 or 2, and the enemy AI seemed pitiful -- they might as well have just pop up unarmed with targets on their chests. Battlefield 3 was a revelation, the multiplayer and single player footage was beautiful and intense. I now have zero interest in buying/playing MW3. Overall the Microsoft conference was underwhelmimg. Too much on rails and kiddie Kinect titles, Nothing I saw, except maybe Ryse, would compell me to get Kinect. And I'd rather spend $150 on non-baby controller games.
  • Markoose16 - June 7, 2011 11:06 a.m.

    I was really disappointed with Microsoft and Sony but moreso Microsoft. I don't see why they use any event which is primarily watched and attended by the core audience to show off games for children and the casual audience. If it wasn't for the Halo 4 reveal at the end MS would have had one of the worst conferences I've watched. I did like the Tomb Raider play-through but CoD and Gears just looked like the exact same games as their previous ones. The live tv thing means nothing to anyone outside America and I think in the UK we already have that with SKY player. Youtube seems a bit pointless as surely I can use my PC or phone for that and alot easier too. The Kinect fun labs looked interesting but it's no reason to go out and buy a kinect for. I liked EA's conference and I have high hopes for Nintendo especially if they are focusing more on the core audience with the new console.
  • SausageLozenge - June 7, 2011 10:52 a.m.

    "the good, but not great Halo Reach" Right...
  • jmcgrotty - June 7, 2011 9:05 a.m.

    Soooo many things to comment on. First, the article said "Theoretically, the technology behind Kinect should lead to all sorts of spectacular innovations in our favorite games". I couldn't disagree more. Theoretically, there has never been an intriguing use for the Kinect. 734 days now since the first announcement of Natal/Kinect and no one has found a use for the thing. The Xbox Live TV will (probably) never happen. And if somehow they do screw up and release it, it will not be a success. The biggest factor (which I can see other have already stated) is bandwidth. Even with the ever-increasing infastructure that exists, services aren't, can't and won't keep pace with the increase in bandwidth use. It's asinine to think this is a feasible idea. And last but not least (and this is admittedly more of a personal belief. But one I am confident that any rational person would agree with), the whole pushing of FPS'es is old and worn out. The whole genre has been dying with each and every new release that comes out. Even when consumers screw up and accidentally buy massive numbers of this genre, it really doesn't speak to the quality of the trash being made. Mostly due to online play, the whole genre has turned into the cesspool of the industry.
  • Asmodean - June 7, 2011 8:39 a.m.

    I was happy with the halo Reveals, but only for the continued story and for the remake of a classic game. Tomb-raider was interesting with the new take on Lara and the series, I have high hopes that were seaning the rebirth of a classic. Gears was a waste; ya its coming, ohh and there big monsters to kill... ahh nothing else new ehh, well that nice... next. The same can be said for MW3 it all kiss kiss bang bang, and at the end of the day we'll have an 8 hour campaign that most likely wont make a bit of sense because all they focus on is multi-player. And then came kinect game after kinect game, one sorry excuse for a entertainment after the next, it was almost enough to make me gag with furry as I tried desperately choke down the bile rising forth with each worthless entry. Even now I can feel the flames of hell lapping at my nuts just thinking about the last half of that press conference. But I digress, at lest it was better then the reveal of Kinect last year...
  • CitizenWolfie - June 7, 2011 8:35 a.m.

    I thought the Sony one was pretty disappointing but I think this was even worse. Both keep hyping their motion controls despite nobody (core audience at least) caring about them. Halo and Gears are wasted on me unfortunately as none of the previous instalments have won me over. That leaves MW3 and Tomb (Island?) Raider. Both Multiplatform. Doesn't bode that well really. I think it'll be Nintendo's year this year. Just hope they delivery some awesome 3DS games now.
  • Defguru7777 - June 7, 2011 7:53 a.m.

    I actually liked the Gears 3 demo. Cliff Bleszinski said during his time on G4 that the reason Marcus didn't get into the Silverback was because they wanted to show off some intricacies of the co-op. While one player shot the Lambent Leviathan with the Silverback, Marcus used him as cover to fire on it. Not saying it was the best decision, just saying why the decision was made. I agree with Reyes about how Halo 4 and Halo Anniversary being underplayed. Those were the highlights of the conference for me. I'm still giddy from happiness with that trailer for Halo 4. I'll admit that the Modern Warfare 3 demo was better than I thought it'd be, but it wasn't really that original. There were plenty of slow-mo breaches in MW2, and I didn't particularly like driving a powerboat during the game's finale. Not saying it was bad, but I wasn't really blown away. Personally, I thought Gears 3's demo was a lot more entertaining.
  • omegakulu - June 7, 2011 7:51 a.m.

    how many people have the bandwidth to stream tv on top of their netflix, and day to day internet usage with ISP enforcing smaller caps by the year...outside of kiddy kinect stuff and multiplat, Gears is Gears, Halo4 might have a fresh look, but can't get rid of the feeling of milking the franchise when they announce not one but 4 Halo games, include CE remake. Overall pretty blah...